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South McCullough Wilderness Area
McCullough Mountain, Ridges Route
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McCullough Mountain, Ridges Route
McCullough Mountain Ridges Route
Cloudy morning on the summit (view NE)


This route is an alternative to the regular route for climbing McCullough Mountain in the South McCullough Wilderness Area. This is not a particularly good route to the summit, but if used for the descent, it makes the route into a big figure-8-loop with only a few minutes of backtracking. From the summit, this route runs east on the summit ridge to the crest of the range, then turns south along the crest, crosses the McCullough Mountain Washes Route, and continues south along the crest. Ridges to the east lead to washes, and a bit of ridge hopping ends at Pine Spring and the end of the dirt road. This route is less efficient than the regular route and adds about 1 mile to the hike, but it follows ridges with spectacular views rather than closed-in washes. As with the McCullough Mountain Washes Route, the complex topography of these mountains requires a bit of orienteering skills.

McCullough Mountain Ridges Route
Ridge and Wash routes (view E from near summit)

Because this is not a good route to climb the mountain, I have described it from top to bottom as a descent route. Therefore, the route starts in Pinyon-Juniper Woodlands (Upper Sonoran Life Zone) and descends into Mojave Desert Scrub (Upper Sonoran Life Zone). On the ridges, the trees, mats of Pricklypear Cactus, and Banana Yucca make for considerable winding around and slow, careful going.

Link to roads map, hiking map, or elevation profile.

McCullough Mountain Ridges Route
Route along the ridge (view E)

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ... this is a fairly safe hike. The ridges and sidehills are steep with loose rocks, but there are no cliffs or other unusual obstacles. The rocky outcrops look like good rattlesnake country. The major concern on this hike is the loose footing among dense Banana Yucca and pricklypear cactus.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and try to Leave No Trace of your passage. This hike goes into the South McCullough Wilderness Area, so pay particular attention to respecting the land. This hike runs off-trail where nobody will find you, so be sure to bring the 10 Essentials. Cell phones work from ridges high on the east side of the crest, but I could not call out from the summit or ridges where I could see down the west side of the mountains to civilization.

McCullough Mountain Ridges Route
The routes share a short piece of ridge (view S)

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located in the McCullough Range, about 1.5 hours southeast of Las Vegas between Searchlight and Primm. Under the best of conditions, the access road does not require 4WD, but there is a steep hillside and two long, sandy washes. I drove the road in 2WD, but with the comfort of knowing that I could shift into 4WD at any time.

For directions, see the McCullough Mountain Washes Route.

The Hike

From the summit (Table 1, Waypoint 15), the route runs east along the east summit ridge to a saddle (Wpt. 16). If descending via the McCullough Mountain Washes Route, this is a place to cut down to the wash below to the south.

McCullough Mountain Ridges Route

From the saddle (Wpt. 16), the ridges route continues east along the ridge, skirting one side or the other of several rocky knobs. Although it doesn't look like it on the ground, about 0.6 miles from the summit (Wpt. 17), the east summit ridge ends where it connects with the crest of the range. From that point, the route continues eastward along the crest for to another rocky knob (Wpt. 19) where (although it doesn't look like it on the ground) the crest turns south.

From the rocky knob (Wpt. 19), the route turns almost due south along the crest on a broad, gently sloping ridgetop with lots of trees, yucca, and pricklypear. The lay of the land looks like you should head southeast, but stay on the ridge (Wpt. 20) to the south.

McCullough Mountain Ridges Route
Ridges route descends ridges, drops into wash, runs up over ridges to Pine Spring (view SE)

The route continues south staying on the ridgeline. At about 2 miles out, the route crosses the saddle (Wpt. 21) where the McCullough Mountain Washes Route drops into the wash to the west.

From the saddle (Wpt. 21), the Ridges Route continues south along the crest, climbing steeply along the ridge and passing along the east edge of a rocky outcrop to gain the top of a high knob (Wpt. 22).

From that highpoint (Wpt. 22), the route runs southwest along the crest, passing two highpoints. As the route approaches a third highpoint, a major side ridge runs to the east. When the ridgeline below the third highpoint steepens (Wpt. 23), the route leaves the crest, turns southeast to traverses the northeast side of the highpoint, and emerges onto the ridge to the east (Wpt. 24) near a rocky outcrop.

Pipe Spring
Pine Spring and the end of the road (view NW)

The route now descends the ridge to the east, passing rocky knobs (Wpt. 25, Wpt. 26) to a saddle (Wpt. 27) where the wash to the south is not far below. The route drops steeply off the hillside into the wash (Wpt. 28), and then follows the wash southeast for about 1/2 miles, passing an unusual cabin structure (Wpt. 29) in the wash along the way. When the wash curves to the east (Wpt. 30), cow trails can be followed over the low ridge to the south and down into the next wash (Wpt. 31). This wash is followed for short distance to a large, round water trough (Wpt. 32) on the edge of the wash. The route climbs the hillside behind the trough to a ridge (Wpt. 33), and then it drops into the wash on the other side, which if all went well, is Pine Spring (Wpt. 34) and the end of the dirt road (Wpt. 35). The road is followed back to the trailhead (Wpt. 01).

Table 1. Hiking Coordinates Based on GPS Data (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Wpt. Location UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (ft) Point-to-Point Distance (mi) Cumulative Distance (mi) Verified
15 Summit 664939 3941228 6949 0.00 0.00 GPS
16 Saddle 665194 3941387 6832 0.20 0.20 GPS
17 Knob on Ridge 665763 3941433 6897 0.40 0.60 GPS
18 Rocky Knob 665960 3941510 6834 0.16 0.76 GPS
19 Rocky Knob, turn south 666242 3941473 6685 0.19 0.95 GPS
20 Small Outcrop on Ridge 666282 3941324 6587 0.09 1.04 GPS
21 Saddle 666264 3940180 6183 0.83 1.87 GPS
22 Top of Knob 666271 3939841 6434 0.25 2.12 GPS
23 Start Across Sidehill 665469 3939191 6419 0.75 2.87 GPS
24 Ridge East 665549 3939023 6435 0.12 2.99 GPS
25 Rocky Overlook 665656 3938978 6415 0.08 3.07 GPS
26 Rocky Knob on Ridge 666071 3938868 6071 0.32 3.39 GPS
27 Saddle 666382 3938873 5826 0.22 3.61 GPS
28 Wash 666357 3938727 5665 0.11 3.72 GPS
29 Old Cabin 666547 3938526 5618 0.20 3.92 GPS
30 Leave Wash 666854 3938307 5499 0.26 4.18 GPS
31 Next Wash 666918 3938249 5506 0.06 4.24 GPS
32 Metal water tank 667052 3938179 5442 0.12 4.36 GPS
33 Ridge Above Water Tank 667084 3938072 5514 0.07 4.43 GPS
34 Pine Spring 667155 3937999 5482 0.08 4.51 GPS
35 End of Road 667193 3937991 5442 0.03 4.54 GPS
01 Trailhead 667728 3937955 5294 0.39 4.93 GPS

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 140405

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